Grading economics textbooks on climate change

I’ve got a new report out today (Dec 1 2010): “Grading Economics Textbooks on Climate Change”, which evaluates the nation’s top-selling economics textbooks based on the accuracy of their treatment of climate science and climate economics. This report is published by Sightline Institute, a think tank I’ve had a long-standing association with (Sightline was where I first starting working seriously on environmental tax reform), so you can also read their blurb about the report here.

Update #1: Here’s the report card in brief: Four books are highly recommended: Colander (A), Mankiw (A), Krugman/Wells (A), and Baumol/Blinder (A-). Eight books are recommended with reservation: Case/Fair/Oster (B), Parkin (B), O’Sullivan/Sheffin/Perez (B), Hubbard/O’Brien (C+), Hall/Lieberman (C+), Cowen/Tabarrok (C+), Frank/Bernanke (C). Four books are not recommended: McConnell/Brue/Flynn (C-), Schiller (D+), Miller (D), Arnold (D-), and Gwartney/Stroup/Sobel/Macpherson (F). Click here for a JPG of this summary.

Update #2: There’s now a petition from Change.org about the textbook that got an F. Check it out and sign on if you see fit!

Update #3: Ed Dolan writes to suggest adding his book (Introduction to Microeconomics, 4th edition; BVT Publishing; $39.99), which he says “has been in print since 1975… In the early 1980s, it became one of the top-selling texts, with copies sold in the six figures per year… Now published by BVT Publishing…an innovative publisher of full-feature, full-package college texts that has had the courage to break the price line of the major-publisher cartel. As you can see from the BVT web site, they sell my book, and similar books in other fields, for about a third of what major publishers charge.” Professor Dolan sent me a PDF of his chapter on “The economics of climate change and environmental policy”, and I’m impressed. I haven’t given it a thorough review, but a not-completely-thorough review suggests that it belongs in the “Highly recommended” category, perhaps even towards the top. There’s good material from the IPCC and excellent content about carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, and intergenerational trade-offs. One concern is that the book doesn’t do enough to specify the time frames for climate impacts, e.g., there are statements like “2 degrees of additional warming could produce anywhere from 6 inches to as much as a meter of additional sea level rise” without quantification of whether we’re talking about sea level rise by 2100 or 2500. Short-term versus long-term impacts are a huge issue and the book could do more to differentiate them. Again, however, my sense is that this book belongs in the “Highly recommended” category, and as Professor Dolan notes it’s a bargain at $39.99.

8 responses to “Grading economics textbooks on climate change”

  1. While I understand your criticisms of reports that ignore the IPCC data, why do you say giving both sides of the climate debate makes something inaccurate? There are two sides — Richard Lindzen like Reggie Newell is a leading climate scientist — so the only inaccuracy would be if one misrepresented the relative sizes of the two factions.

  2. Looking at the data, “almost all” is an exaggeration. (People whose day job is not climate science don’t count — that’s a popularity contest). “Clear majority” or (if you prefer hyperbole) “vast majority” would be more accurate.

  3. 2) Anecdotes are dangerous ways to gather evidence. My undergraduate advisor was Reggie Newell, at the time America’s foremost climate expert (others would have said Jerome Namias, but his stuff has not held up as well). Reggie went to his grave arguing the physics was not well enough understood to draw the conclusions that had been drawn.

    3) Groupthink flaws in the peer-review process notwithstanding, a refereed paper in PNAS that estimates 97+% certainly counts as adequate evidence (by normal scientific rules) of “vast majority”.

  4. @Joel

    97%+ counts as a “vast majority” but not “almost everyone” ?

  5. The problems with the climate change scientists:
    [1] the bases for their models may or may not be accurate. You must accept their assumptions which are not able to be proven. When models like theirs are designed, does one not use a worst case scenario? Then they are acting as if additional improbabilities are additive rather than fractions which are multiplied and hence less and less likely.
    [2] all the environmentalists I know live like energy gluttons. For example, a famous one I know possesses not only a huge mansion for him and his wife, but also an outdoor heated pool and 2 SUVs. Another has 2 homes, while engaging12 grad students to model the disastrous future if we don’t conserve our resources. Yoram, if THEY live this hypocritically, as does Gore, how can anyone take their claims seriously?

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